COVID-19: People told to avoid travelling into or leaving Indian coronavirus variant hotspots

People have been advised to avoid travelling into and out of areas of England among the worst affected by the Indian COVID variant, unless it is essential.

The government’s coronavirus restrictions website changed its guidance over the last few days for people living in eight areas where the new COVID-19 variant of concern is spreading.

It says the local authority areas the new advice applies to are: Bedford council, Blackburn with Darwen council, Bolton Metropolitan council, Burnley council, Kirklees council, Leicester council, Hounslow council and North Tyneside council.

The government website says: “In the areas listed… wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible; keep 2 metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family you don’t live with; avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential, for example for work (if you cannot work from home) or education.”

The new guidance appears to have been issued without any widespread announcement.

The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus urged Health Secretary Matt Hancock to make a public statement in Parliament to provide “urgent clarity” on the new local restrictions.

Layla Moran said: “This is a major change to policy that will have a huge impact on people’s lives. Simply updating the government website without an official announcement is a recipe for confusion and uncertainty.

“Local people and public health leaders in these areas need urgent clarity from the government. Matt Hancock must come before Parliament and make a public statement to explain these new rules.

“It seems crucial lessons have still not been learnt about the importance of clear messaging during a pandemic.”

The Manchester Evening News says it understands local leaders and local public health directors in Bolton were unaware of the guidance, until news of it emerged on Monday.

Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen and Bedford currently have the three worst two-week infection rates in the country, according to analysis by Sky News.

They also have the fastest growing rates.

On Monday night, none of the eight authorities appeared on their own websites to be advising residents to avoid travelling into or out of their council areas.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “Working with local authorities, we took swift and decisive action to slow the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant by introducing surge testing and bringing forward second doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable.

“We provided additional guidance for those living in affected areas when we became aware of the risk posed by the variant, to encourage people to take an extra cautious approach when meeting others or travelling.”

Sky News understands the latest guidance was provided for Bolton on 14 May and the other seven areas have been added as more data has become available.

The easing of restrictions that occurred across England on the 17 May still applies in these areas, but the DHSC believes it is necessary to continue to exercise caution to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not rule out imposing local lockdown restrictions in places worst affected by the Indian variant.

It comes as NHS Test and Trace launched surge testing in a number of postcodes across the Hart District, Rushmoor Borough and the Surrey border in Hampshire, after a small number of confirmed cases of the Indian variant of concern B.1.617.2, were found.

The UK recorded 2,439 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with three more deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

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